Jurors in St. Paul returned guilty verdicts Thursday against four participants in a wide-ranging identity fraud ring based in the Twin Cities that bilked about $2 million from banks and retailers across 14 states.
The defendants were among 28 people charged in the conspiracy; their co-defendants have all pleaded guilty.
The case resulted from an investigation called Operation Masquerade, which grew out of another investigation into a similar but separate conspiracy that had some 200 members.
The defendants on trial in St. Paul were part of a ring that pilfered financial information and identities of hundreds of people from cars, businesses, trash cans and mailboxes. Bank employees gave the ring some information, and a receptionist at the Minnesota Board of Psychology lifted information from state licensing applications.
Prosecutors say ring members created counterfeit checks and fake IDs and used them to buy expensive items and gift cards at retail stores, then later returned the loot for cash. Bogus documents were used to open bank accounts or to pilfer existing accounts.
The trial began Aug. 20. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen Schommer and Michelle Jones called 55 witnesses. The defense called none.
Joel Powell Jr., 46, of St. Louis Park, Desmon Desmond Burks, 37, of Cottage Grove, Frederick Adrianne Hamilton, 55, and Norman Scott Allen, 43, both of Minneapolis, were each found guilty of conspiracy. Powell also was convicted on a dozen other counts for aiding and abetting bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. Burks was convicted of four of those charges, Hamilton was convicted of two and Allen was convicted of one other count related to identity theft.
The defendants face 30 years in prison for conspiracy and a mandatory consecutive penalty of at least two years for identity theft. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson will determine their sentences later.
Adam P. Behnen, who heads the Denver Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which covers the Twin Cities, said in a statement that he was pleased by the convictions and thanked various agencies that worked on the case.
The earlier investigation, called Operation Starburst, involved a similar but slightly different scheme run largely by Nigerian immigrants. Based in the Twin Cities, it ran from 2006 to 2011 and had operations in California, Massachusetts, Arizona, New York and Texas. The 200 members of the ring succeeded in stealing more than 8,700 individual identities from around the world. Prosecutors say that ring stole or attempted to steal some $50 million.
Dan Browning 612-673-4493